AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama complained that Russia had adopted a frostier stance towards the United States since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin, but both camps insisted ties have not broken down.
“I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin,” Obama told reporters at a White House press conference.”When we have conversations, they’re candid, they’re blunt; oftentimes, they’re constructive.
“I know the press likes to focus on body language and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is, is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive,” the president said.
Washington and Moscow are at loggerheads over the war in Syria, the fate of US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, missile defence, nuclear disarmament and human rights.
And so great is the gulf between the former Cold War foes on many of these issues that Obama this week cancelled a planned summit meeting with Putin next month.
Yesterday, as Russia’s defence and foreign ministers met in Washington with their US counterparts, Obama said Putin’s return to the Russian presidency in May 2012 had cast a chill over thawing ties. “I think there’s always been some tension in the US-Russian relationship after the fall of the Soviet Union,” Obama said. “There’s been cooperation in some areas. There’s been competition in others. It is true that in my first four years in working with President Medvedev, we made a lot of progress.”
Medvedev ruled Russia between 2008 and 2012 while then former president Putin took a turn as prime minister before returning to the top job.
The interregnum saw a brief flowering of joint US-Russian projects, including a new strategic arms reduction treaty and a deal that saw Russia help supply US forces in Afghanistan.
“What’s also true is, is that when President Putin... came back into power, I think we saw more rhetoric on the Russian side that was anti-American, that played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War,” Obama said. “And I’ve encouraged Mr Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues. With mixed success.”
Obama however said he was against a boycott of Russia’s Winter Olympics next year over a controversial new law banning “homosexual propaganda.” “I want to just make very clear right now, I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics,” Obama said.
As Obama was addressing reporters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was sparring with his US counterpart John Kerry at the State Department.
Lavrov acknowledged that ties were strained, but played down talk of a return to the confrontation of the era when the west faced off against the former Soviet bloc. “It’s clear there is no Cold War that we should expect,” Lavrov said after a meeting in Washington. “The overall mood was very positive, which inspires optimism,” he added, after talks with Kerry, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.